It’s a fair question. Representatives of unionism would have been warmly welcomed to the reviewing stand in O’Connell St on their own terms which would have underlined the end of the old ambivalence towards the use of violence in the North.
But perhaps this was not the moment. By common consent, reconciliation has not been impeded. It was nationalism’s day, no matter how you line up the variable geometry. Our German allies do not attend Armistice Day (although Mrs Merkel was present at the D Day anniversary commemorations in 2014.).
Is here any moment of history exclusive to the two states of Ireland that they could commemorate together? (That rules out the Somme). Nobody as far as I recall ever suggested that the Dublin state should have been represented at the anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 2012, an event that led to the UVF gun running and its emulation by the Irish Volunteers, but no immediate deaths.
The anniversary of the Government of Ireland Act 1920? Hardly, Superseded in the south by the Treaty and the provisional government, implemented only in the North which didn’t want it at first and removed from the UK statute book on the insistence of today’s Sinn Fein. For nationalists, the formation of the Northern State replicated the old oppression within defensible territory. It seems too much to ask them to accept an act of self determination equivalent to their own, in view the record of the first 50 years.
Until recently the verdict of history was much harsher against the Protestant state than the Catholic one. Time and reconciliation has changed that somewhat and allowed for the exposure of equally glaring flaws in Irish society. On the role of the Church you can hear mutterings that Paisley had a point. And so he had. Unionism preferred good wholesome Protestant oppression to the Catholic variety. These twin forces of social conservatism, now much reduced, are in holy alliance against the rising tide of change north and south.
Perhaps around 2022, the time will have arrived to take stock of the two states concept which was so furiously rejected when Conor Cruise O’Brien devised in it in the early 1970s and Garret FitzGerald was among the first to try to envision a new Ireland.. How far have we come since then? The question is still worth asking with open minds.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London